Make no mistake: Captain America: Super Soldier owes much of its existence to Batman: Arkham Asylum. The developers at Next Level Games, who have already proven they’re capable of duplicating other developers' mechanics, have dutifully captured Batman’s arsenal of punches, dodges, grabs and counters within the framework of the Captain America character, resulting in combat that's fun enough to invite the comparison to Rocksteady's hallowed game. Regrettably, the rest of Super Soldier isn't strong enough to stand out from other comic book-licensed games. A weak story, boring platforming, and dully recurrent gameplay ensure that Captain America doesn’t step outside of Batman’s long shadow. Super Soldier is a decent enough action-adventure game, but it’s completely inessential.
At least you won’t be spoiling much of the upcoming movie by playing this game. Super Soldier follows Steve Rogers, now Captain America, as he investigates a mysterious German castle that serves as the location for Hydra, the Nazi-stand-ins that desire to raise an army of their own super soldiers to spread fake-Nazi chaos across the world. As perennial straight arrow Captain America, you're tasked with sabotaging the facility and crippling the efforts of Hydra head scientist Arnin Zola.
As you would imagine, the main mechanic that differentiates Captain America from his foes is his shield, and the weapon is integrated well into combat. The shield gives Captain America a throwing weapon that is extremely useful for enemy takedowns. A quick double-tap of the right trigger will cause the shield to ricochet around enemy groups, which allows for more effective control in larger encounters. The shield’s most useful function is its defensive utility; with a well-timed button press, Captain America can block ranged attacks from any direction, or even send the shots flying back at opponents. Sending sniper bullets back at Hydra grunts never fails to satisfy. Beyond those additions (and a couple of super moves), Super Soldier borrows much of its combat from the Arkham Asylum blueprint, which means that it’s still pretty fun to wade into crowds and decimate the lot with well-timed counters, skillful dodging, and swift attacks.
However, that comparison to Arkham Asylum only benefits Captain America in the context of combat. Part of what makes Batman: Arkham Asylum so interesting and fun is getting access to all of those wonderful toys. Batman’s assortment of grappling hooks, batarangs, explosives and flight capes provided the impetus to design a game with a multitude of paths to explore, as well as numerous ways to dispatch enemies. By contrast, Captain America... well, the dude pretty much just has a shield (and some explosives), and the game is designed as such. You’ll spend the whole of Super Soldier moving through the game’s highly linear story and gameplay, with virtually no changes to the game’s combat model from opening to closing credits. Only in the last hour does the game open up and let you explore the whole of the Hydra compound, but at that point you’ll be in striking distance of finishing the game entirely, and you’re probably better served by just seeing the game to its conclusion than spending time exploring the sewer networks that connect locations together.
When you're not fighting, you're probably grabbing onto ledges and flipping around. Using something that sort of resembles the flashy-but-consequence-free platforming of Uncharted as a starting point, Super Soldier introduces platforming sequences that are literally one-button Quick Time Events. Failing to push the button at the proper interval merely results in Captain America halting his movement and staying on the environmental object he previously latched onto. There is zero penalty for missing these sequences, and the timing throughout the event is so specific that it’s easy to lose your momentum. These platforming events suffer even more when the Captain is expected to change direction, as it’s hard to know which direction on the analog stick to push to actually turn the other way. These acrobatic events make sense within the context of Captain America the character, but the events themselves are so stiff and boring that they detract from the game rather than add variety.
The only other element to provide a break from the competent combat in Captain America is a swarm of collectables that crosses the line from excessive into overwhelming. Throughout his journey around the Hydra compound, Captain America will stumble across enemy intel, stacks of intel, briefcases (probably full of intel), film strips, schematics, falconry gear, table statues, ornamental eggs (intel?), music boxes, and rooster statues to be collected and returned to the Allied brass. Beyond the ridiculous quality of picturing Captain America sticking a dictionary’s worth of intel down his pants, the problem with all of these collectables is that they overshadow the main gameplay; at times, I felt I was spending more time deviating from the main path down really obvious side paths to collect this junk than I was fighting fake Nazis. It’s repetitive busywork, but it's different repetitive busywork, representing the only real distraction from the rote, plodding main path you're otherwise wandering down.
While the combat might offer you a few hours of relatively amusing fake-Nazi bashing, there's little here that hasn't been done better by other developers with other superheroes. Captain America is absolutely a piece of summer fluff; a competent but slight release that you’re bound to forget about the second it leaves your console.